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'It's been relentless': Veterinarians slammed with appointments as more become pet owners

Posted at 12:29 PM, Apr 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-28 12:29:39-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Veterinarian hospitals and clinics across the nation are experiencing an influx of business, meaning customers are having to wait weeks to get in for an appointment, which can be dangerous in an emergency.

According to many West Michigan veterinarians, the boom is due to a backlog of appointments that were pushed back early in the pandemic, but even more interesting, this is largely in part due to an influx of new pet ownership.

"It's just not Michigan, it's nationwide," said Ryan Carpenter, veterinarian at Family Friends Veterinarian Hospital in Grand Rapids. "Everyone across the country in the veterinary world is feeling the same effects that all veterinary clinics are.

Carpenter says there are several factors that have led to this boom, but one of main causes is a backlog of care that was labeled "non-essential" and pushed aside during the beginning of the pandemic.

"It's been an interesting year transitioning from inpatient appointments to kind of car side appointments over the last year," said Carpenter. "We started out March, April, May, June of last year doing essential versus non-essential as deemed by the state. Now we're just leading to a huge boom in veterinary medicine. It's hard to keep up with the demand."

Another reason is people are paying more attention to their animals while working from home.

There was also a major increase in new pet ownership.

"A lot of people have had downtime. So, they've acquired pets, dogs and cats and other pets to comfort them during this this this past year. So, there's been an uptick in pet ownership," said Carpenter. "We've had to kind of deescalate new clients. Unfortunately, we love seeing new clients and meeting new pets. But like many veterinarian clinics, we're kind of have to service the clients that we currently have. Which for new pet owners is tough, because many veterinary clinics are going to this model."

Carpenter says at Family Friends Veterinarian Hospital, patients can expect to wait weeks, sometimes even more than a month to get an appointment.

For animals that are sick and need same-day care, their team sets aside more than a dozen appointments for those situations, but that's often still not enough.

"It's not uncommon for us to get a call and, you know, we have to send someone to an emergency clinic where their wait is going to be exponential as well. Some people are waiting eight to 12 hours at emergency hospitals," said Carpenter.

At Cascade Animal Hospital, the wait is just as long.

"It's been relentless," said Richard Siegle, hospital director of Cascade Hospital for Animals. "I have been a veterinarian for over 40 years and I will say the last, probably, nine months have been the busiest it's ever been."

Siegle says so many people have been acquiring pets, animal shelters have very few pets available for adoption.

"In fact, a lot of the animal shelters have very few pets for adoption nationwide, there has been a tremendous increase. And because of that, there has been a backlog," said Siegle.

In 2020, the Bissell Pet Foundation reported more than 8,000 more adoptions than in 2019.

And it's more than veterinarian care, groomers are overwhelmed with appointments too.

"We can only do so much with trying to, you know, quote unquote, squeeze people in, there's really, there's no room to squeeze anyone in," said Alli McDonough, owner of Fido & Stitch.

Ali McDonough, owner of Fido & Stitch, a grooming salon and pet supply store in Grand Rapids, says her grooming appointments are booked more than two months in advance.

"A few grooming salons have closed, probably due to the pandemic," said McDonough "We've had a lot of referrals to us from those groomers that have closed. On top of that, there's not a lot of groomers out there. You know, especially with the pandemic, they can't get the training. So, we can't find groomers."

The veterinarian industry is also experiencing a shortage of support staff.

"It is exhausting. Our staff, nurse staff across the country is getting burnt out, you know, we are running at such a high pace," said Carpenter. "We really try to make owners happy. And you know, when you can't meet the needs of everyone, it makes it tough."

For now, veterinarians across the country are doing the best they can and are urging their patient's owners to plan ahead and don't delay calling if you notice something isn't right with your pet.

Also, if the situation allows for it, consider a telehealth visit for your furry friend.

"We're relying on telemedicine as well. Like a lot of other veterinarians," said Carpenter. "The bigger thing is as pet owners we can to not wait till the last minute, so if your pet starting to get sick, start thinking about making that appointment, start thinking about getting them seen."

It was recommended by American Veterinary Medical Association that vet clinics and hospitals stick with the current car visit model, and about 85% across the nation are doing that now.

While it takes more time, it's keeping their staff and patients safe.

However, vets do anticipate in-house care will come back soon.

In the meantime, be sure to thank your veterinarian and vet support nurses.